Heather Benson at work, courtesy of Judy Barcelon

Heather Benson at work, courtesy of Judy Barcelon

Three Piner High School teachers spent the beginning of their summer in class, learning about stem cell research at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

They plan to take what they learned in the three-day “externship,” formed by Buck Institute supporters and the Marin and Sonoma County offices of education, and use it in the classroom next year.

During the externship, World history teacher Heather Benson worked with career tech teachers, Judy Barcelon and Dante DePaola,  to learn about stem cell research and then to weave those concepts, activities and skills into next year’s lesson plans.

“I became inspired to challenge my students with higher level science concepts so they can understand how aging and disease happens on a cellular level,” stated Judy Barcelon.

Teachers were exposed to many scientists’ work.

For instance, The Buck Institute’s  Dr. Julie Mangada invited teachers into the Discovery Lab she manages, sharing her research on stem cells  and leading teachers through a sheep brain dissection.

They also learned about an organism that shares 35 percent of its genes with humans and is easy to keep in a lab; fruit flies whose genes can be mutated to understand how genes operate; and the genetic mutations that occur to create the wide spectrum of disorders called Autism.

Next year teachers will take this question to their students, Barcelon said:  “How have past discoveries built the foundation for stem cell research to cure disorders in the present?”

To do so they created activities including a timeline of technological advances and developing ways to explore the economics of scientific research.

All this work will culminate on Oct. 15, Stem Cell Awareness Day, when Mangada will deliver a keynote address on campus and students campus-wide will be able to participate in activities.


Courtesy of Judy Barcelon

Courtesy of Judy Barcelon

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